How to find and fight spam listings on GoogleBy Solange Messier
Queries for “Near Me” search results have skyrocketed over the last several years, making Google Business Profiles (previously known as Google My Business profiles) essential to every local businesses marketing strategy. With Google’s platform becoming the norm, competition online has only gotten more crowded, leaving some businesses, agencies, or freelance marketers to experiment with malicious and black hat tactics to beat their competitors online.
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One tactic includes creating or updating spam listings that could negatively impact a businesses online presence, as well as their reputation with customers. Trying to detect and eliminate malicious or deceptive listings from appearing in search results isn’t fun. This article will look in-depth at how spam detection works, how to report spam to Google, and what tools are available for SEOs. Let's dive in and find out how you can help tackle the issue of spam listings online.
Table of Contents
- What is a spam listing
- Why it's essential to identify, report, and fight spam
- A brief overview of Google's guidelines for representing a business
- How to identify spam on Google listings/common red flags
- How to report spam on Google Business Profile listings
- How to audit your Google listing for spam
- Could my Google listing be identified as spam?
- Final Thoughts
- Frequently asked questions
What is a spam listing?
A spam listing is a false or inaccurate online listing that may appear in business search results, which often leads to confusion or disruption for legitimate businesses online.
What constitutes a spam listing?
Spam can appear on a Google Business profile in many ways besides reviews. It could appear in the profile’s description or business name as well its website or phone number.
Fake listings may also be created with inaccurate information that disrupts legitimate business profiles and appears ahead of them in search results.
Spammers may use personal information like photos and videos to target unsuspecting customers and damage your brand’s reputation. It’s important to take action and stay vigilant quickly when you suspect a spammer is trying to damage your Google Business profile.
- Spam can appear in your profile’s description, business name, website, or phone number.
- Fake listings with incorrect information can be created and disrupt authentic profiles.
- Spammers can use personal videos and photos to target customers.
- Spam reviews can hurt your ratings and overall reputation.
Why it's essential to identify, report, and fight spam
The problem with spam listings is more than that they're annoying and potentially harmful to businesses. Not addressing spam listings is one of a business's top reputation management mistakes. It can also negatively affect your rankings and revenue as well.
When it comes to your Google Business Profile, spam reviews can show up as untrue or fake comments. The reviews might be created by competitors or people who haven’t done business with you.
Spam reviews may be constructed to weaken customer’s trust in you by posting inaccurate or false content about your business.
There are tactics to prevent spam reviews like moderating incoming reviews before they go live, using automated filters to detect suspicious activity, and prompt responses when replying to genuine customer questions.
A brief overview of Google's guidelines for representing a business
Guidelines for representing your business on Google are available as well as Google’s Business Help Center with a more explanation of each section.
Google updates its guidelines regularly with current best practices in the industry. Some of these updated guidelines include:
- Information about how to create a compelling listing
- What kind of information should you have on your listing page,
- How much text to include in the body of your listing (and where it should go),
- What kind of links to include in your listing
Once you've done the hard work of creating your listing, Google will do its part and index it for local search results. The more information you provide, the better chance your business will be found by new customers looking for what you offer.
How listing management can help
When it comes to local listing management, consistency is key.
Keeping your business information up to date across all platforms helps maintain an accurate and reliable presence in search engines, which benefits your Google Business Profile and strengthens its reputation. It’s important to stay on top of changes and keep your business information consistent.
You should add hours and descriptions for each site so that customers know when they're open, what services they provide, and what makes them stand out from the competition.
How to identify spam on Google listings/common red flags
Google is constantly improving its algorithms to identify spam and low-quality listings. If a Google Business Profile listing doesn't meet quality standards, it can be removed from search results or demoted below other listings.
You should know what constitutes a spam listing to take action before Google does, as well as the common red flags that might be considered spammy by Google's algorithms. Here are a few tips on how to spot these signs, and how you can audit your own listing for spam.
Listings with excessive keyword stuffing
Keyword stuffing occurs when keywords are used too much in a listing. If you see the same word or phrase repeatedly repeated in a single paragraph, that's considered keyword stuffing. For example:
“Come to out cafe for the best coffee in town. Our cafe has the best coffee in town, so why go anywhere else? Visit us for the best coffee in town.”
How do you know if your competitor's listing is guilty of keyword stuffing? Suppose their copy reads like this example above or any other form of excessive use of keywords within their content. In that case, chances are they're trying to game Google's system by stuffing as many relevant phrases into their business profile as possible.
If you see a similar listing to yours, it's likely spam. If you notice that the photos on one of your competitor's listings are the same as those on your site, this is another sign of spam. It could also be a sign of something more than just spam. It could be a stolen image or copyright infringement.
There may be an issue with duplicate listings if there are multiple listings with the same business name, phone number, and address as yours (but with different websites).
Duplicate listings are when you see the same business listed in multiple places on Google, with different contact information.
They could be better for business because they can lower your position in search results and cause confusion for customers who want to find you. If someone searches for "bakery" and sees two bakeries with similar names but different contact information, they may not know which one is yours.
Multiple addresses for the same business
If a business listing has multiple addresses, that's a red flag. For example, if you see the same company listed with only one Google listing, along with an address and phone number in New York City and an address and phone number in Vancouver, that's likely spam. It’s important to constantly monitor your business page for accurate listings.
To report these listings to Google:
- Go to Google Business Profile
- Click on “Report a problem” near the bottom of your screen and then click “I'm not sure this listing is spam.”
- You can also report spam by clicking on the three dots next to any listing and selecting “Report this listing as inappropriate.”
Multiple phone numbers for the same business
In the case of multiple phone numbers for the same business, it can be legitimate for a company to have numerous phone numbers. For example, if you're looking for “Karen’s Coffee” on Google Maps and there are two different listings with different phone numbers, but they both say “Karen’s Coffee,” it's likely spam.
To keep your site from being penalized, it's essential to identify these listings. You can check for them by doing a reverse image search on Google or by checking the URL for signs of duplicated content (such as multiple phone numbers). These are just some ways to protect yourself against spam on Google Maps!
How to report spam on Google Business Profile listings
Spam is a problem that affects everyone. While most of us have to deal with unwanted messages and calls, it's also possible for businesses to have their listings flagged as “spam” by Google. If the company isn't spam, you can use the following steps to report this error:
Before you report spam, it's essential to understand what spam is. Google defines spam as:
- “Unwanted content that violates one or more of our policies.”
- “Content which deliberately attempts to manipulate our search results to gain traffic or attention.”
Step 1: Search for the business listing
The first step to reporting a spam listing is to search for the business and location. If you’re still looking for it, there may be a problem with your search. If you find it, click on the listing to see more details about it (such as phone numbers and hours of operation).
Step 2: Enter your business information
First, enter the name of your business, its website URL, and email address. This is required to be able to access the form and submit your complaint.
Pro Tip: All the information must be accurate for your complaint to be accepted.
Step 3: Select “Report a problem”
Select the issue you want to report from the dropdown menu. Make sure you choose the option that accurately describes your issue so that Google can understand what you’re asking them to change.
Step 4: Add supporting information
Provide additional information to support your claim like a screenshot or links that may help explain the issue further. This will help Google know what they need to do to resolve the problem. The more details you provide, the more likely your complaint will be taken seriously and responded to promptly.
Step 5: Add details about why you think it's spam
Once you've found the listing, it's time to report it. This is where things get a little tricky—the Google Maps web interface doesn't allow for the same level of detail as the app, so you can't just select “Spam” and be done with it. You need to provide as much information as possible about why you think this listing is spammy for Google to take action against it.
Here are some examples of what I've found helpful when reporting listings:
- Listing URL (if available)
- Screenshots/ links
- Name of business/person associated with this listing (if available)
- The address associated with this listing Phone number associated with this listing Business category related to this listing * Website URL related to this listing
If you cannot recognize a business from its description or location, you can use these steps to report it and have it removed from search results.
If you cannot recognize a business from its description or location, you can use these steps to report it as spam to Google and remove it from search results.
How to audit your Google listing for spam
You can audit your listing on Google by following the steps below. If you find spam in your listings, you can request that it be removed by contacting Google and providing them with the information listed below.
- Check for duplicate listings. If you have multiple listings, check to see if they all point to the same page on your site.
- Users falsely report your listing as spam. This often happens when users don't like what you're doing (for example, a competitor may report your listing as spam). Google can only sometimes tell the difference between false positives and legitimate complaints about your site's content.
- Remove unnecessary information. In addition to removing any outbound links from within a description field on Google Business Profile, remove any excessive keywords or phrases from within the profile itself. They might be penalizing you for being too promotional.
Check for duplicate listings
After you have checked your listings to make sure they are unique, it's time to look for duplicate listings. You can do this by searching for yourself on Google. If you find more than one result that matches the same name and address, there is likely an issue with duplicate listings.
You can easily address issues with duplicate listings, however. Here are some places where you might find duplicates:
- Google search results (e.g., if someone else has the same name as you)
- Google Maps (e.g., if someone else has claimed a location that includes your address)
- Google local pages (e.g., if someone else has claimed their business page as being at your address)
- Shopping results (e.g., if someone else has created an account under their company name instead of yours)
Users falsely reporting your listing
As a Google Business Profile listing owner, you may have to deal with false reporting. It's essential to know how to handle it and how not to let it affect your business.
How do I handle false reporting?
If someone has reported your listing as spam or duplicate content, the first thing that should come to mind is: “Why?” There are many reasons why people might want to falsely report a business listing. For example:
- They don't like your business and want to get rid of it;
- They want more exposure on Google My Business so they can drive more traffic or sell products; or * The person who reported their own business had been suspended from managing their account.
Remove unnecessary information from the title
Your page's title is one of your site's most critical elements. It should be descriptive and include keywords relevant to your business, but it shouldn't sound spammy or like you're trying too hard to rank well in search results.
For example, if you run a pet store with many pages that feature dogs, don't use “puppies” in every title—it will look obvious and unprofessional. Instead, try something like “Puppies for Sale: Yorkie Puppies At Our Pet Store In Orlando.” This makes sense because people searching for puppies would likely be interested in buying one from your store since they are located in Orlando (and not New York).
Remove any outbound links from your description
You should also remove any outbound links from your description. Outbound links point to another website, such as a link to your website in the “Contact Us” section of your Google listing. These are fine if they're relevant to what you're writing about, but if they aren't (like if you have an outbound link for “Free Stuff!”), then it can be seen as spammy and will hurt your rankings.
Additional steps for auditing your Google listing
To get started, let's take a look at your listing. To do this, open up Google and search for your business name (or any variation). If you're using a phone or tablet and don't know how to do this, check out our tutorial on how to find your own Google listing.
Once you've found yourself on the results page, there are a few things you'll want to check off before moving on:
- Are there any duplicates? This means that multiple listings for your business appear on the same page (or close together) within the results list. If so, those duplicates should be removed from Google's index by submitting a removal request through their web admin tools account.
- Is someone else falsely reporting your company as spammy? You can check out what other users have said about them by clicking “reviews” under each result.
If someone has left negative feedback about one of these reviews, then you should consider reaching out directly via email or phone call so that both sides can discuss what happened before things escalate further down the line! Alternatively, if you know the review is fake, you can dispute a Google review.
Could my Google listing be identified as spam?
Without other user interference, a Google Business Profile might be flagged for spam by:
- Keyword stuffing. Google wants to see that you're relevant to what you're listing, so if your title, description, and tags are stuffed with keywords, this could be a sign that you're trying too hard.
- Lack of links on your website. It's normal for pages in the SERPs (search engine results pages) to have one or two links per page; any more than that will likely trigger some flags in Google's algorithm and get your listing flagged as spammy.
- Suspicious images and media. If you’re using images only for decoration rather than information-gathering purposes. For example, using an image as background art without providing any text content underneath it explaining what it's all about or why someone should care about whatever topic is being discussed within the said image(s).
What can I do if my Google Business Profile was marked as spam?
The process can take up to a week, but you'll need to provide proof of your ownership and ensure you have an accurate description of the site in question. You should also include information about how long the site has been online and its primary content.
The key to avoiding a Google penalty is to be proactive in your SEO efforts. If you regularly monitor the SERPs and make changes based on what you find, it's much easier to avoid getting penalized by Google.
Google's algorithm constantly evolves to provide users with the best search results. As a result, companies can easily find themselves at the top of Google's rankings one week and then wholly absent from their SERPs the next. This can be incredibly frustrating for businesses that have invested time and effort into building up their online presence, so it's essential to stay up-to-date on how Google ranks sites and what factors influence this ranking.
Frequently asked questions
Could my listing be identified as spam?
Yes, your listing could be identified as spam. Google’s algorithms constantly scan for suspicious activity and detect if something isn’t quite right. If it looks like a spam listing, it will quickly be removed from search results.
How long will it take to get for a spam complaint form to process?
The length of time it takes to remove a spam listing depends on the nature of your request and whether it meets our criteria for removal. In general, removal requests are processed within 30 days.
In many cases, you'll need to submit an appeal if Google determines that your client’s listing and website does not violate their policies or if your site has been re-indexed after being removed from search results. For example, if it was previously listed as a duplicate, then you should submit an appeal.